‘Nomadland’ Analysis & Symbolism – Finding Freedom From Our Attachments


Nomadland is a single woman’s search for an answer to a fundamental question, “is Home just a word? Or is it something you carry within you.” There are many intriguing ironies in life upon which we never ponder until that becomes an exigent gateway, through which we necessarily need to pass. The same happens to Fern (Frances McDormand) who questions materialism and attachment after she loses her husband and her house.  Rightly said, “It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.” Fern hits the road to unveil what adventure awaits.

Directed, written, edited, and co-produced by Chloé Zhao, Nomadland is an independent western film that subtly explores life. Performed by the brilliant Frances McDormand, the narrative is heavily supported by McDormand’s performance. Without her, this narrative would have been a waste, with her, It’s Soul-Stirring.  Nomadland is based on a nonfiction novel, Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century written by Jessica Bruder and screens some real-life nomads as well. The film tries to tour a nomadic life with its perks and cons in between.

‘Nomadland’ Summary

On January 31, 2011, due to reduced demand for the sheer stock, US Gypsum shut down its plant in the Empire, after 88 years. A lot of people lost their jobs. Fern and her recently deceased husband were a part of the lot. Fern left with nothing, sells her house, and buys a van for Vandwelling.

Fern works odd seasonal jobs to sustain herself but she doesn’t really have a motive left in life. Where she is going, why she is going, we are fed with nothing. However, we follow her through her journey on which she meets several fellow nomads. These nomads teach Fern basic survival and self-sufficiency skills for the road. The interaction with these nomads gives Fern something to look upon. She makes some really happening friends who understand her escape and dilemma. However, the best and worst part of the road is, You have to keep moving left behind people you meet.

Thus, the story moves in a circle, where Fern is constantly moving and meeting new people. In the pursuit, she is evolving into a better person, who understands that materialism and attachment have no place in life. Living in the present, Creating memories, and Hoping to meet your loved ones again down the road is what life consists of. It is the painful truth which we need to accept, for better or for worse.

Symbolism in ‘Nomadland’ – Finding Freedom from Attachments

Each element of the Nomadland speaks of Liberation. Liberation from within oneself. In a general opinion, being a nomad is leaving your house. However, in Nomadland, the meaning is much deeper. Fern sells off her materialistic belongings but she is still stuck with past memories. She is not completely a nomad but is on the path of becoming one. She has accepted the fact that living inside a van is not being homeless. She speaks the same, when a small girl from her town tells her, “Mom said, you are homeless.” To which Fern quotes, “Not homeless, but houseless. Not the same thing right.

However, Fern is still not free of the attachments. Things and people still worry about her. This layer is underlined when she meets different people on the road and gets attached to them. She finds it hard to just leave the people behind and move on with life. In fact, she still holds the sadness of losing her husband. She speaks of the same, “I maybe spend too much time just remembering Bob.” When we hold on to our past, it really becomes impossible for us to concentrate on our future. That happened with Fern who safeguarded the memories and kept on pressing it when she should have accepted that he is gone and it’s her own life which she should pursue.

A nomad Bob Wells utters the same for Fern that it’s okay to remember but goodbyes are a part of life, cherish it. Fern understands this and makes a last visit to the US Gypsum factory where she worked with her husband. She hits the road again, in the hope of meeting the bygones again down the road.

The purity and heart through which Frances McDormand lives the character of Fern is heart-warming. It is said that after a moment, people are felt rather than seen. It happens with Fern’s character where I accompanied Fern on her journey without questioning anything else.

Many writers are of the understanding that a character needs “want and desire” to bring an element of drama in the narrative. I feel Nomadland is a perfect example of a character who has no desires or wants. She is lost, like most of us. But she is moving, which is the most daring thing to do. And a story should always be moving (pun intended). Nomadland moves you from within.

Nomadland is a very personal film to understand life better. To understand ourselves better. It is both a journey on the road and within ourselves. It gives you enough to think upon. Certain Narratives make you a better person, Nomadland beautifully falls in that category. If you love slow drama with a moving character at its core, do watch this film. It isn’t a film that should be missed. Frances McDormand might steal your heart again with her phenomenal performance.

Nomadland is streaming on Hulu.

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Shikhar Agrawal
Shikhar Agrawal
I am an Onstage Dramatist and a Screenwriter. I have been working in the Indian Film Industry for the past 12 years, writing dialogues for various films and television shows.

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